Solar Energy Information

I’ve run across some good solar energy information in the past few weeks in while doing research for a couple of conversations on an engineering list.

EETimes has an article about the seventeenth annual Photovoltaic Science and Engineering Conference The next gold rush – solar power.

This week PBS is repeating the October 2007 NOVA episode Saved By the Sun, an excellent overview on the current state of solar. It includes an section on the economic model of the new company SunEdison. You can watch it online here.

Finally the US Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Solar Energy Technologies Program Home Page is a good starting point for getting information on all aspects of solar energy. Check out the Myths of Solar Electricity page for some good de-bunking of seven commonly encountered photovoltaic myths. Don’t get confused by the “100-mile-square area” statement in myth #1, that’s a square 100 miles on a side, 10,000 square miles not 100 square miles.

The reality-based community

I’ve heard this phrase on every episode of the Point of Inquiry podcast, yet I’d never taken the trouble to see where it came from. Today in a email conversation with an engineer who isn’t too reality based I thought I could use the reference so I decided to look it up. A post on the Center for Inquiry forums led me straight to the original source.

It is from a New York Times Magazine article from 2004, Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush written by Ron Suskind, here’s the relevant section.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Now I’ll be able to find the source when I need it in the future. It also makes it easier to understand why the Bush administration makes so many really bad decisions, they intentionally ignore reality and try to make their own.

Blog look update

I’ve changed to the NewsPortal theme by Kaushal Sheth for my blog this evening. I was getting sick of having too much blank space on high resolution monitors so, I went looking for a theme that used variable width for the main content column. The three column layout and widget compatibility for both sidebars are icing on the cake.

The Linksys NSLU2, aka the Slug, has been discontinued

Last week a member of one of the NSLU2 mailing lists noticed that the NSLU2’s were gone from his local Staples. He spoke with the store manager and found out that they had been discontinued and remaining Staples inventory is being returned to the distributor. I looked around and sure enough everyone on the net is either out of stock or clearing them out as a discontinued item (without discounting it by much).

If you were considering getting this wonderful embedded Linux server I wouldn’t recommend it anymore. This is too bad since the Slug is an exceptionally versatile little server that only uses the power of a nightlight. I’ve been using two Slug’s on my home network one as a DNS/DHCP/NTP server and the other as a development web server for about a year and a half. The savings in electricity over standard PC server boxes has been incredible. I have not found any other device even remotely the same in terms of features, low price, low power consumption and ease of hacking it. 😦

Kirchhoff's Birthday

Happy birthday Gustav Robert Kirchhoff (March 12, 1824 – October 17, 1887) . Back in 1845 while still a student he created Kirchhoff’s circuit laws which solidified the mathematics for basic electronic circuit design. The contributions Kirchhoff made to physics where instrumental in advancing science in the 19th century.

In 2003 the IEEE honored him by creating the Gustav Robert Kirchhoff Award for “outstanding contributions to the fundamentals of any aspect of electronic circuits and systems that has a long-term significance or impact.”

University of St Andrews, Scotland

There is one of his books available @ Google books: Researches on the solar spectrum, and the spectra of the chemical elements

An alleged constitutional history teacher makes a whopper mistake

There was a discussion about public education on an engineering mail list recently. I was staying out of the conversation since it was mainly pure opinion and the anti-public education side was coming across as proposing a return to pre-industrial revolution America, which no thinking person would take seriously. Then along came the following post that had a clear distortion of U.S. history.

The U.S. Constitution, for example, rests largely on the works of Locke which the Founding Fathers interpreted for America such that the Constitution was finally accepted. John Locke was adamant about the sanctity of private property and so it is written into the constitution.  However it was deleted from the section that states “…life, liberty and property…” and changed to read “…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” because slaves were considered property and the framers did not want a constitution that would sanction slavery or elevate one man above another.

This caught my eye because I know the phrase” life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” very well so I replied.

You are confusing the U.S. Constitution with the Declaration of Independence which sadly seems to be a common mistake among US citizens. The Declaration is not a document containing U.S. law rather it is a document by British subjects declaring their intention to break away from Great Britain.

The original post went on with:

The level playing field here is in this part of the constitution which makes everyone equal in the eyes of the law (an idea from the Roman Republic). Everyone could own property and everyone on merit could achieve their best.

It appeared to me that he is saying that this mythical part of the original U.S. constitution gave everyone equal protection back in 1787. My reply to this misconception was the following.

It was not until nearly 100 years later (1868) that the Constitution was amended to include equal protection:

Amendment 14, Section 1
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

I figured the other engineer would reply with something along the lines of, oops I screwed up. But that was not to be, instead he replied with the following post.

I am not confusing anything.  I know the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers, etc.  All were indeed influenced by John Locke’s treatises on government. You failed to get the point point of the message.  Surely I can write a definitive history and analysis, and I have taught constitutional history.  But it was not my intention to give a history lesson.

He refuses to admit he made a mistake and instead tries to change the subject to broader points in his original post that I had not commented about. Since he can’t keep straight what words are in the Declaration of Independence versus the U.S. Constitution, I don’t think he could write a credible history let alone a definitive one. If he has really taught constitutional history I feel very bad for the poor students who suffered due to his ignorance and arrogance. I and likely most of the list members didn’t expect him to write a history lesson but we do expect him to at least gets his facts right. I won’t bother to respond to him on the mail list as I find it pointless to argue with someone who won’t acknowledge a clear error like he made and instead tries to change the subject.

More on Cell Phone Jammers

My post in October 2007, Cell Phone Jammer Foolishness, received a couple of interesting comments and is still attracting a lot of spam from sites that offer cell phone jammers. A recent piece of spam ended up pointing me to an excellent November 2007 New York Times article on this topic. A few examples of jammer users from that article made me realize that many of them are simply incompetent at their jobs and want to use jammers to cover up their shortcomings.

… upscale restaurant in Maryland …
The owner, who declined to be named, said he bought a powerful jammer for $1,000 because he was tired of his employees focusing on their phones rather than customers.
“I told them: put away your phones, put away your phones, put away your phones,” he said. They ignored him.

This owner can’t control his employees so he uses an illegal jammer to make up for his inability to discipline his employees. IMO, he deserves to go bankrupt as he is clearly not cut out to run a business with employees. This reminds me of the companies who’s supervisors can’t recognize when employees are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Instead of training them to spot the problem they institute drug testing. This eliminates the drug abusers and the outside of work casual drug users while retaining the staff with drinking problems. I do not believe technology is ever a good replacement for competent managers and supervisors.

The carriers also raise a public safety issue: jammers could be used by criminals to stop people from communicating in an emergency.

This is aspect of the jammer issue I hadn’t thought about, it’s another good reason to keep the ban on all radio jamming devices.

In evidence of the intensifying debate over the devices, CTIA, the main cellular phone industry association, asked the F.C.C. on Friday to maintain the illegality of jamming and to continue to pursue violators. It said the move was a response to requests by two companies for permission to use jammers in specific situations, like in jails.

This reminds me of a comment I received on my previous post.

in need of info about jaming cell phones at a large prison , inmates are paying officers and employees some were around 500.00 bucks per phone to sneek them in effective range would have to be 1/4 mile to fully cover the site, and maybe mounted out side or on top of a bldg for max range , please notify me of any companys that sell this type of equipment.

I replied:

My first thought is that the officers and employees are breaking the law and need to be prosecuted. What other items are they smuggling in for the prisoners, weapons, money, heroin, crack, arresting the law breakers will work for all these problems. Frankly, IMHO, smuggling items into a prison is a worse breach of the law than all the prisoners in for drug possession. If the prison authorities don’t care about their employees and officers breaking the law then why should anyone help them.

That said, if the prison officials want a lazy, ignore the law breakers, way out of their problem they should consult the FCC as special licenses to do radio jamming might be available for prisons.

Since their are no special licenses or regulation waivers for prisons the only legal options they have are to use RF shielding materials in the prison or prosecute the law breakers. Another user described in the NY Times article is:

Gary, a therapist in Ohio who also declined to give his last name, citing the illegality of the devices, says jamming is necessary to do his job effectively. He runs group therapy sessions for sufferers of eating disorders. In one session, a woman’s confession was rudely interrupted.
“She was talking about sexual abuse,” Gary said. “Someone’s cellphone went off and they carried on a conversation.”
“There’s no etiquette,” he said. “It’s a pandemic.”
Gary said phone calls interrupted therapy all the time, despite a no-phones policy. Four months ago, he paid $200 for a jammer, which he placed surreptitiously on one side of the room. He tells patients that if they are expecting an emergency call, they should give out the front desk’s number. He has not told them about the jammer.

Sorry Gary but I don’t buy it that you can’t do your job effectively without breaking the law. Why don’t you just insist that your patients leave their cell phones outside when they enter a session. I’m guessing your patients don’t feel you are worth the visit if they have to follow rules of courtesy demanded by you. How can you be truly useful advising your patients if you can’t even get them to be courteous. The final example is:

… New York school bus driver named Dan.
“The kids think they are sneaky by hiding low in the seats and using their phones,” Dan wrote in an e-mail message to Mr. Thakkar thanking him for selling the jammer. “Now the kids can’t figure out why their phones don’t work, but can’t ask because they will get in trouble! It’s fun to watch them try to get a signal.”

Smooth move Dan, you can’t control the kids in your charge so you use a jammer. How would you feel if there is an accident, you are disabled and some of the kids are hurt. You can’t turn off the jammer so now any surviving children with phones or spectators nearby can’t get help as quickly as they could. Seconds can save lives so when you use a jammer you may end up preventing someone’s life from being saved. I just hope that the only people who suffer due to a situation like this are the bozo’s who feel this need to use illegal cell phone jammers.